Coming into this game against the Broncos, Monte Kiffin and this defensive staff needed to come up with a plan that was going to limit the number of snaps that Peyton Manning and this Broncos offense were going to get in the game. It was unrealistic to believe that this Cowboys defense was going to get consistent three-and-outs but as difficult as this task at hand was, they just could not allow Peyton Manning and this offense to go up and down the field if they were to win this game.
What Kiffin tried to do and I believe this was the right approach, was match his defensive personnel with these Broncos skill players. At least in this scheme, you are playing to the strengths of your defenders. Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick are much more comfortable playing in man coverage than they are in zone. I thought Scandrick was outstanding in the way he battled on Sunday and he by far had the most difficult assignment in dealing with Wes Welker.
Morris Claiborne started off poorly defending the vertical route from Eric Decker where he was in poor position which caused him to play overextended and reaching for Decker. Claiborne was in such poor position, he had no choice but to hold on the play. Later Claiborne had another opportunity to battle Decker in a goal-to-go situation and Decker was able to get the better of him on a back shoulder throw where Claiborne was trying to prevent Decker from getting up the field and over played him on the route. Decker was able to stop his route, adjust and Manning had the ball in the perfect spot. After that touchdown, it appeared that Claiborne settled down and did a much better job of playing with awareness and technique. His positioning on routes were not all over the place and on his interception right at the end of the 3rd quarter, he executed his assignment perfectly and was able to grab the ball at it's highest point which he had a problem with against the Chargers. What started off as a struggle for Claiborne, actually ended up as a positive, which was a welcomed change.
The player in this Cowboys secondary that I worry about the most because, I knew that this was going to happen, is the play of Brandon Carr. Where Claiborne has had his problems with his confidence and technique, teams have yet to take advantage of Carr in my view. On Sunday, I thought we saw a little of that. Where Carr has had his struggles in coverage, is the amount of separation we see between him and the receivers. I have always view him as a physical player that used that style in order to make up for a lack of foot speed, but I am having trouble finding that physical player.
There have been too many times whether it was practicing in training camp or in these games where you see receivers get away from him. I can't recall the last time, he has defended a ball when the receiver has taken him across the field while he is playing man coverage. The plan of the Broncos was pretty simple, if these Cowboys defensive backs were going to line up in man, make them carry these receivers and with the exception of Scandrick, there were problems. Carr has been fighting through some problems with Tendonitis but to his credit, you have not heard him complain one bit about the condition. I am not trying to make excuses for him but Sunday against the Broncos, was not one of his better efforts and that has me concerned going forward.
Starts Up Front
There is a great deal of pride in that locker room when it comes to how this defensive line plays down after down and it starts with their coach, Rod Marinelli. A month ago, they were the talk of the town with their ability to get after Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. But it has been a different story the last two weeks, with Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning each having passed for over 400 yards in a game and that once dominate pass rush, is looking for answers.
In preparation for this game, the one thing that was constant in my views, was if this Cowboys defensive front could win a battle or two up front and get Peyton Manning to have to move around in the pocket, there would be some chances to get off the field. The Broncos offensive line, much like the Chargers was not chalked with household names but this defensive line was only able to muster up, minimal pressure and when it broke clean, George Selvie grabbed the facemask of Manning, which resulted in a 15 yard penalty. [embedded_ad]
There were plenty of snaps where this Cowboys defensive line had the opportunity to win on some one-on-one blocks but were unable to make anything happen. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are your two best players on this line but it was Selvie and Nick Hayden that had much better games. There some scheme stunts that took Ware out of chances to make a play or two in the running game, but still it was a very quiet game for a player, that this team relies on for his play making ability. Peyton Manning has so many traits that give defensive linemen trouble, but his best one might be his ability to keep rushers off balance and out of rhythm with how quickly he gets rid of the ball and Sunday, he was able to once again do that.
As much pressure that was on Tony Romo to make plays, the same could be said about DeMarcus Ware. With the Broncos facing a 3rd and 5, with the score 41 – 38, Ware gets a one-on-one rush against Chris Clark. Ware does force Manning into an incompletion with some upfield pressure, but if he could have beaten Clark for a sack, that could have taken the Broncos out of field goal range and changed the complexion of the game and quite possibly helped the Cowboys secure a victory.